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Organic Pineapple Farm
Costa Rica exports more fresh pineapple than any other country. And the world’s largest organic pineapple farm is in the central area, near Poás Volcano. After our morning hike at the volcano, we headed north to learn how pineapples are grown and to taste plenty of juicy samples at Finca Corsicana.
Information on the pineapple farm’s website indicated that the farm was “45 minutes” from the volcano. (Let me add a big “ha!” here.) We had 1 hour and 35 minutes before our tour started, so we expected to arrive early and have time to enjoy lunch. Instead, we drove non-stop for an hour and a half and arrived just in time to buy our tickets and start the tour.
The main road twisted up and around some high mountains.
Looking at the view below:
Scenic farmland around us:
The two-way road was narrow, and definitely not designed for high-speed traffic:
The bridges were often single lane only:
After cresting a mountain top, we snaked down the backside of a gorge and passed a waterfall at the base of a tiny bridge:
We crossed over the gushing river:
Then we steadily climbed out of the gorge on the other side. Here is a view back at our road across the gorge:
The middle line across this mountain is another section of our previous road—no Armco barriers here!
The roads were also shared by an occasional herd of cows:
As on our drive to the volano this morning, essentially all of the homes we passed seemed to be well-maintained:
Although we didn’t have precise directions on how to reach the farm, we knew we were getting close when we dropped downhill and found ourselves among large stretches of pineapple fields:
The Finca Corsicana visitor’s center had a store and a restaurant that we would have liked to check out, but we just barely had time to buy our tour tickets and climb aboard a tractor-pulled trailer.
The visitor’s center:
Our tractor driver was Carlos:
Our guide was Roy, who has been working here for 8 years in various capacities—planting, harvesting, packing, and being a tour guide.
In the above photo, Roy was showing us two pineapples and explaining how the aesthetics of a pineapple is critical. Can you guess which of the above pineapples would not be considered perfect enough to export? The deficient pineapple is on the left—not worthy of being exported because it has a crooked top. The top crown must be straight!
Of the pineapples that are grown here, about 80% are considered good enough to export.
At Roy’s direction, Carlos went into the field and pulled out an entire pineapple plant—heave ho! No, he didn’t have behemoth strength; pineapple plants have very shallow roots that only sink a few inches below the surface, so they easily relinquish their home turf.
Carlos then hoisted the plant high and carried it back to our trailer:
Roy told us that a plant will produce one pineapple at a time, and the first one on top is usually the best one.
Others sprout from sucker shoots that grow off the sides of the plant:
Roy got jiggy with his machete and sliced up some fresh pineapple for us to sample:
Jo Ann says, “Mmmm, good!”
Sebastian was given the “lollypop” core to nibble on:
While Roy sliced up two more pineapples, he shared some interesting facts with us:
Pineapples do not ripen after they are harvested, so they must be picked when they are perfectly ripe. Once picked, a pineapple will begin to ferment, so it needs to be refrigerated to slow down the fermentation process.
An organic pineapple that is yellow on the outside has been fermenting for a while and is over-ripe. However, if the pineapple is non-organic, the yellow color has probably been artificially produced. Growers know that consumers associate the color yellow with a “ripe” pineapple; rather than educate the consumers on how to select a perfectly ripe green pineapple, many growers will just make the pineapples artificially yellow. Go figure.
Pineapples don’t have a “season” for growing. A plant can take from 1 month to many years to produce a single pineapple. Because of this unpredictability, pineapple farmers use ethalyne gas to make the plant produce a pineapple on a schedule, generally 5 months after applying the gas.
Organic pineapples take about 16 months after the initial planting before they are ready to be harvested.
In 2008, this farm was all organic; however, the economic downturn resulted in a partial shift to non-organic in order to maintain profitability. Now the farm is 60% organic and 40% non-organic. The pineapples are hand-planted and hand-harvested.
While we were out among the pineapple fields, we spied a huge sloth! Can you find him below?
The green algae on his coat acted as a great camouflage. Here is a better photo:
He was hanging from a tree in one of the many natural areas that separated the pineapple fields. I had never seen a sloth before, and spying one had been on my “wish list” for Costa Rica. Seeing one here at the pineapple farm was completely unexpected, and a special treat. We were all very excited!
As we looked more closely at the trees, we spied another large sloth that was more hidden within the tree branches—and this one was dangling upside down, with a baby sloth hanging on her chest!
Carlos pulled our cart closer to get a better look at the sloths. But when he tried to make a U-turn, the tight angle caused the trailer hitch bar to snap completely through—oops!
Here he is, surveying the broken bar:
Our ride was over for the day, so we piled out of the trailer:
(The other tour guests consisted of a group of college students on a biology class field trip from the University of Wisconsin.)
Down on the ground, we could get a better look at those incredible sloths, with their curious faces and long curved claws:
We walked back to the pineapple processing area, past large metal containers that generally hold 1200 pineapples each during harvesting.
Today was Saturday, and there were no workers sorting pineapples. We learned that Costa Ricans generally have a 48-hour work week (unlike the 40-hour week in the U.S.), with hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. At Finca Corsicana, however, they work 9 ½ hours Monday through Friday, so they can have Saturdays and Sundays off.
At the initial unloading area, the pineapples are unloaded from the containers and sent down a conveyer belt, where those that are not considered “export quality” are sorted out.
The tops of the non-exportable pineapples are then cut off, and the fruit is packed into wire crates, and later turned into marmalade, juice, or candy.
Five percent is made into the candied pineapple found in fruit cakes and other items made by Collins Street Bakery, a Texas bakery that started Finca Corsicana 22 years ago to provide fruit for its cakes; the farm had grown and expanded its operations over time.
On a busy day, 30,000 pineapples can be sorted and packed. Inside the warehouse, Roy showed us where the pineapples are packed into 25 pound boxes that hold 5, 7, or 10 pineapples.
Dole buys 95% of the pineapples grown by Finca Corsicana, and then sells 80% of those to Whole Foods. For every pineapple sold, Whole Foods gives 50¢ to the community here in Costa Rica.
The pineapples are shipped at 45°F, and generally reach the market within 1 week of shipping. To pick the best organic pineapple in the supermarket, look for a firm body that is mostly green, with a bit of yellow at the bottom. And remember that it will not continue to ripen on your counter, it will only ferment; so refrigerate it to slow the fermentation process.
At the end of our tour, we were treated to more chunks of fresh pineapple, bites of fruit cake (surprisingly good!), and piña colada drinks (non-alcoholic) made in pineapple bodies.
As a footnote, I will add that the pineapple farm is really a bit far as a “day trip” from the Alajuela / San Jose area. The drive back to our hotel in Alejuela took over 2 hours, along winding mountain roads through Braulio Carrillo National Park. The night-time fog was very thick over the mountain passes, and it was really difficult to see the road in front of us. The visibility was near zero on the top of the final pass; we could not see ANYthing ahead, so we pulled over to the side for a moment--hoping that we wouldn’t get rear-ended, but not wanting to go forward and risk plummeting off the mountainside. It was freaky. Thank goodness for our handy GPS, which we affectionately nicknamed “Lola,” as it/she helped us identify upcoming hairpin bends in the road and also directed us safely through the maze of streets on the outskirts of San Jose. Even with the long drive, however, we were so glad to have had the chance to learn about pineapples and taste all that sweet goodness!
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